Written by John Patrick Green
Art by John Patrick Green, Cat Caro
Published by First Second
Release Date: May 11, 2016
When the zoo they live in begins to wear them down as much as it is worn down, Red Panda and Hippopotamister decide to make a change in their lives. Written and drawn by John Patrick Green, with color from Cat Caro, Hippopotamister is a tale about searching for meaning and the struggles and successes you might encounter along the way.
It’s also a story about a hippo and a red panda that try to do a bunch of different jobs and find magnificent ways to fail at them all. Hippopotamister has more success than Red Panda, but along the way the duo seem to continually miss their marks, no matter how unique Hippopotamister’s solutions are.
Green sets the tale up in a series of snapshots. Each adventure, each new job the unlikely duo take on is contained within two-four pages. The pacing is perfect for interrupted (or interruptible) reading, without setting chapter markers every six pages. The story within those snapshots is unmistakable and would be clear even without words, propelling Hippopotamister into solid footing in all ages’ territory. Younger readers just figuring out sequential storytelling will easily consume this book from start to finish, while more seasoned readers get a more satisfying tale from the finer details present in both art and story. For example, when Trattoria Della Bestia is shut down, it is within those details that a chuckle awaits the reader.
Green’s art is deceptively simple and clean. Again, suitable for serial storytelling, the characters remain distinct panel-panel, page-to-page, beginning to end, so much so that Green even includes a “How To Draw. . .” segment at the back of this book. Green clearly has younger readers (or at least younger at heart) in mind with his art style, which is cleanly appointed and detailed “just enough”. His characters are animated and, as works best for the story, considerably cartoony. After all, Hippopotamister goes from a rundown zoo to nearly sitting on a child. If it were depicted in a real manner, even Vertigo would be squeamish about it. The more playful characters infuse the story with necessary vitality, giving Hippopotamister brilliant visuals. Cat Caro’s colors meet the art with a playful watercolor influence that augments the joy in the story, even as Red Panda and Hippopotamister continue their quest for the perfect job.
A friendly vehicle for delivering a set of morals, Hippopotamister gives readers of all ages a chance to have some fun, explore some different career options, and learn a few things along the way. Green makes it quite clear that not everyone finds their “perfect job” on the first try, but he also shows readers that sometimes everything you need to be satisfied and helpful is waiting right there in front of you. Hippopotamister goes through a hero’s journey of sorts, finding out things about his skills, interests, and abilities along the way. Readers are then treated to the actions and reactions of that journey, as Green even finds ways to deliver some humorous situations and whimsical encounters.
The Verdict: 9.0/10